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GAO: DHS losing control of information-sharing efforts

Critical clues to impending terrorist attacks could again go unnoticed

By Dan Verton
August 27, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security hasn't effectively coordinated the multitude of information-sharing efforts now under way throughout the nation, creating a situation where critical clues to impending terrorist attacks may once again go unnoticed.
That's the conclusion of a report released today by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Although the DHS is required by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to share information with state and local authorities -- and it plans next month to kick-start an effort to build an enterprise architecture for sharing homeland security information -- most states and cities said the current system is close to failing.
"Overall, no level of government perceived the process as effective, particularly when sharing information with federal agencies," GAO investigators said in the report. "Information on threats, methods and techniques of terrorists is not routinely shared; and the information that is shared is not perceived as timely, accurate or relevant."
Of the 40 states that responded to the GAO survey questions, only 35% reported that sharing with the federal government was "effective" or "very effective." In addition, 98% of the large cities that completed the GAO survey reported that they needed information on the movement of known terrorists but only 15% said that they received this information.
One of the major obstacles cited in the report remains the federal government's belief that the fight against terrorism remains Washington's responsibility. In addition, GAO investigators said many federal officials expressed concern about sharing national-level intelligence information with state and local agencies. Those officials cited an inability at the state and local level to securely store such data and or provide appropriate security clearances for personnel.
More telling is the GAO's finding that the DHS has failed to gain control over the dozens of individual state, local and private-sector information-sharing partnerships that continue to spring up all over the country. DHS's lack of knowledge about what information-sharing mechanisms and systems exist has created a significant obstacle to the department's ability to create an integrated nationwide system, the report concluded.
Because of the perceived lack of government willingness to share information, some federal, state and city agencies have established their own information-sharing clearinghouses and databases. The FBI, for example, has significantly increased the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Likewise, California has established an antiterrorism information center that collects, analyzes and disseminates information to its law enforcement officers, other law enforcement agencies and the FBI. And New York City has established a counterterrorism committee that includes the FBI, the New York State Office of

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